What about other Others?

What about other Others? July 18, 2011
Get thee there if you haven’t weighed in yet.


So, back to some of my undisguised opinions for a bit, as we wait for the survey results.  There’s been a lot of commenting on the Natural vs Normative thread about homosexuality.  Benjamin Baxter of Prodigal No More just brought up a common philosophical argument against homosexuality that I want to take a minute to address.  He wrote:

Stripping the procreative, only leaving the unitive, in sex is to unite yourself with — who? Someone who is, despite all frivolous differences, nonetheless fundamentally like yourself? Is not a purpose of the unitive in marriage to unite yourself with a mysterious other who you may only even guess at through this intimate connection? Whose status as a mysterious other you cannot, even in your worst moments, deny? Truths exist in this ritual and are not lightly discarded.

There was a little confusion about whom this mysterious other was, but it’s my impression that Benjamin is referring to is the opposite-sexed partner.  I’ve heard variants on this argument before: that only the opposite sex can remain somehow Other and unreachable whereas a person of our own gender is so self-similar that sexual congress is mere masturbation.

I don’t get it. I think it sells short all other aspects of human diversity.

There are plenty of unbridgeable gulfs between me and other people.  Some of them might be rooted in biology, but, as trads and post-modernists should both agree, many of them are rooted in culture.  The choice of biological sex as the difference-that-will-stand-for-all-difference-between-self-and-other seems awfully arbitrary.

I don’t disagree with the crux of this argument: that part of what makes married love important is that we commit to someone who is unlike ourselves even when they are jarringly dissimilar.  This bond gives us the opportunity to get outside out own head and biases and let our partner help fix the deficiencies we could not recognize.  Making a lifetime commitment to someone different that you and having to just deal with all the frustration or just plain incomprehensibility that grows out of that difference can help you cultivate patience and openness to Others everywhere else in your life.

I’m entirely in favor of this (and it’s a large part of my sympathies for covenant marriage), but I don’t see gender differences as the essential split.  In fact, making gender differences the essential divide seems like it could blind us to the other ways we Other people.  A heterosexual bond doesn’t usually help White supremacists get past their racial prejudice.  No one person can be all the Others to you, so, for this purpose, your opposite-sexed lover will sometimes be deficient, just as a same-sex one might have.

There are other ways to try to get a handle on problems of other minds (I generally go with science fiction specifically, and novels generally).  Plenty of these options are lower stakes than disputes with your life-partner, but no one should turn up their nose at an opportunity to grow.

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